Democratic Party leaders have grown increasingly optimistic that Hillary Clinton will escape a criminal indictment for her use of an unsecured private email server for official business, even if the FBI recommends that the Justice Department pursue the case.

If Clinton does escape a formal indictment, she could still face a potentially lethal blow to her campaign.

If Clinton does escape a formal indictment, she could still face a potentially lethal blow to her campaign.

The FBI is expected to finalize its investigation into the Clinton email scandal sometime in late spring or early summer. At that time, the law enforcement agency will either close the case or make a recommendation to the DOJ that an indictment be handed down. If an indictment is recommended, Attorney General Loretta Lynch will decide whether to move forward or to ignore the FBI’s recommendation.

Lynch has her own history with the Clintons. The current attorney general was nominated as U.S. Attorney for Eastern New York by President Bill Clinton in 1999. Lynch later joined the Hogan & Harrison law firm that did tax work for the Clintons, according to the watchdog organization Judicial Watch.

If the FBI does recommend an indictment, Lynch will be handed both the sword to end the Democratic standard bearer’s campaign and the shield to protect Clinton and allow her to move past the email issue — potentially. It appears unlikely the Obama appointee would choose the sword and allow a Hillary Clinton indictment to move forward.

Enter FBI Director James Comey. Comey has been a highly respected figure in law enforcement ever since he became a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 2002. He has served with high marks across partisan lines under both President Bush as deputy attorney general and President Obama as the director of the FBI.

Several conservative legal figures, including former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, have predicted that Comey would not accept a partisan rebuff of a recommended indictment from the FBI, and would instead offer his resignation to the president.

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The resignation of such a universally respected leader in law enforcement from his post at the head of the nation’s top investigative agency would spark a cataclysmic wave of negative media for Clinton.

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The resignation of Comey over a scorned indictment recommendation would cement Donald Trump’s narrative justification for his candidacy and define the course of the contest with Clinton. Trump, the outsider candidate fighting to break the stranglehold of the Establishment, was able to wield the charge of a “rigged” system to devastating effect against Sen. Ted Cruz over the Republican Party’s allocation of delegates. Evading a criminal indictment with the direct aid of the U.S. attorney general screams “rigged” on an entirely different level.

Clinton, having barely survived an anti-Establishment assault in her own party, would become the “crook too connected to jail” in the general election. The weight of that moniker could be even more damaging to her candidacy than an indictment itself — which the Clinton camp would inevitably spin as a partisan witch hunt.

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A Comey resignation could well sink what’s left of Clinton’s reputation under the weight of his own. The first wave of disaster for Clinton would be the immediate media firestorm the development would spur. Every political enemy of the Clintons would make the rounds on cable news calling for Lynch to resign. The administration would have to hunker down in siege mode or even offer up Lynch as a sacrificial lamb, and the Clinton campaign would lose control of the entire conversation of the race.

The media wave would eventually give way to television ads deployed by Republicans extending the drama and hammering the final nails in the Clinton negative-perception coffin. The Clintons could simply not spin their way out of a Comey resignation over a non-indictment.

Of course the FBI may not recommend indictment to Lynch and the DOJ. Comey has pledged the investigation will end with an outcome born of the facts and the law. If that outcome is a recommended indictment, it will be on Attorney General Loretta Lynch to give the law its day — or risk her own career alongside Clinton’s candidacy.